Venus, the goddess of love and beauty, played an important role in Roman mythology. She began as a minor agricultural deity of ancient Italy associated with gardens and fields. Temples to Venus were built in several early Latin cities.
As Romans became familiar with the Greek myths of Aphrodite*, they increasingly identified Venus with that goddess. They also linked Venus with other foreign goddesses, such as the Babylonian Ishtar. One result of this connection was the naming of the planet Venus, which Babylonian astronomers had earlier associated with Ishtar.
deity god or goddess
The first temples dedicated to Venus appeared in Rome in the 200s b.c. Others followed, and in 46 b.c., Julius Caesar dedicated a new temple to Venus in her role as Genetrix, or "one who gave birth." By this time the goddess had taken on special importance to Romans. According to a myth in Virgil's Aenetd *, Venus's love affair with a Trojan man named Anchises produced a son, Aeneas, who survived the Trojan War*. Venus helped Aeneas escape from the ruins of Troy and reach Italy. Later when Aeneas was fighting an Italian warrior named Turnus, his spear became stuck in a tree. Venus saved Aeneas by returning the spear to him. Aeneas's descendants went on to found Rome.
*See Names and Places at the end of this volume for further information.
In this mythological interpretation of Roman history, the goddess Venus took a direct hand in establishing the Roman people and state. She was especially important to a noble family called the Iulii, who claimed to be descended from Aeneas. Julius Caesar belonged to this family, and he and his heirs—including the emperors Augustus and Nero—considered Venus to be one of their ancestors.
like Aphrodite, Venus was married to the god of fire, known to the Romans as Vulcan. However, she had love affairs with other gods and men, notably Mars* and Adonis. She was the mother of Cupid, known to the Greeks as Eros.
By early medieval times, European Christians had come to view Venus as a symbol of the darker side of sensual and sexual pleasure. In the centuries that followed, however, a more balanced view of Venus emerged. Literature and artworks such as Botticelli's The Birth of Venus (ca. 1482) portray her as the embodiment of female beauty and fertility.
See also Adonis; Aeneas; Aeneid, The; Aphrodite; Eros; Greek Mythology; Mars; Roman Mythology; Vulcan.
Venus Anadyomene Venus portrayed rising from the sea, according to Pliny's Natural History in a picture by the Greek artist Apelles, and represented in Botticelli's The Birth of Venus.
Venus de Medici a classical sculpture in the Uffizi Gallery at Florence.
Venus de Milo a classical sculpture of Aphrodite dated to c.100 bc. It was discovered on the Greek island of Melos in 1820 and is now in the Louvre in Paris, having formed part of the war loot acquired by Napoleon on his campaigns.